Champaign, March 5 – The Russian government has distributed 2.9 million Russian passports to residents of the post-Soviet states, an action some view as interference in the affairs of these countries because there are few bilateral agreements on this and because Moscow has invoked the presence of its citizens there as a reason for Russian involvement.
The Novy Region news agency this week, citing an article in “La Presse Canadienne,” said that since 2000, reported that the Russian government has given approximately 2.9 million Russian passports to Russian “compatriots” in Georgia, Moldova, Estonia and Ukraine for what Moscow says are “humanitarian” purposes (www.nr2.ru/pmr/222553.html).
As the Canadian paper points out, Moscow has already used the existence of these groups as justification for its intervention in Georgia, as a means of weakening Ukraine and Moldova and as a way of putting pressure on Estonia in order to “show the West that these countries are in [Moscow’s] sphere of influence.”
And although there are reports this week that the Russian government has stopped handing out Russian passports in South Ossetia, possibly to undercut suggestions that Moscow plans to annex that breakaway republic, the Russian authorities are in fact increasing the distribution of such passports elsewhere.
During the first ten months of 2008, for example, the Russian embassy in Tallinn distributed 3700 such passports, twice more than during the same period a year earlier, and a marked change for Moscow’s policies of only a few years ago when it sought to exploit the presence of people there without any citizenship against Estonia.
And the Russian authorities are handing out passports to an increasing number of people in Crimea. About 200,000 residents of that peninsula now have dual citizenship, and one American expert quoted by the Canadian newspaper suggested that Russia hopes to pursue the same strategy in Ukraine’s Crimea that it followed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Many in the West see Russia’s actions as understandable given the continuing presence of significant ethnic Russian populations in these countries after 1991, but such attitudes, which Moscow has done everything to exploit, reflect ignorance of a fundamental principle of international law:
The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone is entitled to citizenship, a point Moscow frequently and effectively cites, but it carefully does not say that everyone is entitled to the citizenship of any particular state or that anyone has the right to dual citizenship in the absence of a bilateral agreement between the two countries involved.
By failing to insist that the Russian powers that be live up to the requirements of international law in this area, Western governments are not only undermining the independence and sovereignty of countries they have recognized but also encouraging those in Moscow who increasingly appear to believe that they can violate other provisions of international law as well.